Burress wins Pekin mayoral race
Voters in Pekin decidedly have chosen Mary Burress as the city’s next mayor, over current City Council members Becky Cloyd and Dave Nutter.
Burress, the former Tazewell County treasurer, received 51.8% percent of the 3,886 ballots cast (19.7% turnout), according to unofficial Tazewell County election results.
“I'm still just a little bit numb over all of it, but it truly is an honor to represent the citizens of Pekin now, once again,” Burress told WCBU on Wednesday morning. “We have to roll up our sleeves and get a big job done. We've got to unite and pull the city together. I've got to build a team, a good team, and I think everybody is really willing to do that.”
Burress succeeds Mark Luft, who stepped down as mayor in January before his term expired. Luft had endorsed Burress after deciding in November not to seek another term.
Cloyd, who has served as Mayor Pro Tem since Luft’s resignation, received 28.5% of the vote, while Nutter earned 19.7%. Both will retain their seats on the City Council.
Burress admitted she didn’t expect such a wide margin of victory.
“I was very shocked, very, very surprised,” she said. “Yesterday, I told my team, ‘We've done the best that we could.’ We've stayed positive and that's what we needed to do for the city of Pekin. I said, ‘if I win, I'm going to be so honored; but if we lose, we've won because I think people realize that we need to unite the city again.’
“It brought everything to the surface of what we need to do to the city of Pekin. So for me, it was going to be a win-win, but I'm still very shocked. My team said it might be so close that we might have to wait a few days for the final results.”
Burress said her top priorities will be addressing Pekin's finances and infrastructure needs. She said both Cloyd and Nutter reached out to her on election night and pledged to assist her in leading the city forward.
“We are going to unite and pull the city together,” said Burress. “We've got to fill our positions at city hall (and) we've got to bring morale up. It's so low; I'm not quite sure why, but we're going to work on that.”
Attempts to reach Cloyd for comment on election night were unsuccessful. Nutter said he entered the race “with eyes wide open,” and he was not surprised or disappointed by the outcome – expecting to finish third.
“Regardless who the winner is, I'll support the new mayor and we'll work together and continue to move this city forward,” he said. “Both the (other) candidates have the same perspective as I do: We’ve got to work together and put everything back as a whole, move forward and make things right.”
The election marks the latest turn in a roller coaster of political turmoil that has embroiled the city for months.
In October, Cloyd and Nutter both voted in favor of terminating former city manager Mark Rothert, who had Luft’s support. The former mayor acknowledged that Rothert’s ouster played a part in his decision to leave office.
Cloyd was temporarily removed from the ballot after the Pekin Electoral Commission chaired by Luft voted to uphold challenges to her nominating petitions. Cloyd appealed that ruling and a Tazewell County judge ruled in her favor.
Cloyd also faced scrutiny after voting in favor of the sale of a city-owned downtown lot at a discount to a developer who contributed to her campaign. Cloyd said Randy Price’s donation went toward her legal expenses in the appeal to restore her name to the ballot, and the contribution did not sway her council vote.
In a social media post before the election, Burress said Pekin “is desperate for a serious mayor with executive experience and a real plan to fix our roads, stimulate our local economy, and engage with our community.”
Burress was first elected Tazewell County treasurer in 2010, holding the office for 12 years. In 2020, she ran for the 46th State Senate District as a Republican, losing to incumbent Sen. Dave Koehler. She passed on another run for treasurer last year to seek the 87th House District seat, falling to Rep. Bill Hauter in the bid to follow Rep. Keith Sommer.
Burress previously told WCBU the city needs to go in a direction after the political turmoil, and that she has a track record of uniting people. She said one of her top goals will be to get Pekin's finances in order, without overburdening tax payers.
Burress will be leading an unchanged city council, as incumbents John Abel (16.1%), Rick Hilst (15.9%) and Karen Hohimer (14.2%) top the eight-candidate field. Hohimer outdistanced fourth-place finisher Jacob Brisbin (11.8%) by 234 votes.
“Attitudes are contagious and they start from the top,” Burress said of working with the existing council. “If they see how much I am willing to work with them – all of them – I think that's a huge step in the right direction.”